Classical Medieval & Early Modern Studies - Belgium, Ghent
|15 juli 2022
In September 2021, I left for Belgium where I spent my exchange semester at Ghent University. The purpose of my exchange was to follow courses for my research master Classical Medieval and Early Modern Studies that are not offered at the University of Groningen. With the help of the Groninger Universiteitsfonds, I was able to complete these courses which included historical cartography, urban history, theoretical history, and medieval history.
Although similar topics feature in courses taught at the University of Groningen, the content and structure of the courses at Ghent University were new to me. For example, in Groningen, research papers are usually limited to one specific period (e.g., the Middle Ages). For the course on urban history in Ghent, however, I was obliged to cover all time periods from antiquity to the modern period. Similarly, contemporary issues such as post-conflict truth commissions in Africa and South America were central to the course on theoretical history. In Groningen, such courses mostly focus on philosophers and their ideas. Differences such as these offered a welcome contribution to my studies.
Whereas I welcomed the differences in content, the way courses are structured at Ghent University proved to be a real challenge. My courses were all worth 5 ECTs and they all covered an entire semester. As such, I had to complete six relatively small courses at once which was far harder than expected. This was mainly due to the fact that I could not start studying at full speed right away. During the first couple of weeks, I had to explore my new environment. Although Belgium appears to be much like the Netherlands, it is surprisingly different. Finding the right places to do groceries or trying to understand the hairdresser who speaks a certain Flemish dialect took more time than expected.
Moreover, living in the almost entirely international environment of the university residences also required time and energy. In sharp contrast to my life in Groningen where English is the language of study and Dutch the language of everyday life, in Ghent I followed most of my courses in Dutch and communicated with my friends and fellow residents in English. From the start, I was convinced that making new international friends was an important part of my exchange. I participated in activities organized by the university and spent a lot of time with other international students at the university residences. We visited events such as the Ghent light festival, concerts, and pub quizzes, but mostly we spent our nights playing card games.
All in all, my exchange offered me the opportunity to follow courses that I could not follow in Groningen as well as the experience of studying in a different environment. Adjusting to this often-surprising environment took a lot of time and energy but sharing my experiences with other international students proved to be the foundation for interesting conversations, fun leisure activities and new friendships.